Thwarted and peculiar passion has long been a recurring theme in the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, unforgettably exemplified in the opening line of Love in the Time of Cholera:

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

Memories of My Melancholy Whores, his last piece of fiction (which I missed on its initial publication in 2005), explores this same refrain from the point of view of a man facing his 90th year, discovering love at the end of his life, and for an unlikely object of affection. (Reminiscent of a Latin Humbert Humbert.)

A couple of things: the title implies a salaciousness that in no way reflects the actual book. It’s also a (tiny) novella, far short of the grand scale of the Marquez oeuvre. But it harbors loveliness of nuance, expression, and thought that can only come from the soul of a master.

The truths about aging (“the first changes are so slow they pass almost unnoticed, and you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside”) are as honest as they are depressing. I doubt there’s a simpler yet more wrenching description of the dementive experience than: “… just as real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they had happened.”

It harbors loveliness of nuance, expression, and thought that can only come from the soul of a master.

As always with Marquez, it all comes back to the beauty of the writing:

“When the cathedral bells struck seven, there was a single, limpid star in the rose-colored sky, a ship called out a disconsolate farewell, and in my throat I felt the Gordian knot of all the loves that might have been and weren’t.”

Must read this again, in Spanish. The English translation (by Edith Grossman) is superlative, but I can just imagine the added impact in its original language.

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